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As an associate justice, Alfred Moore served on the U.S. Supreme Court for five years. The ardent federalist, whose life and political career involved danger, controversy, and principled stands, left little mark on the Court's business during his service from 1799 to 1804. Although he fought in the Revolutionary War and later held high office in North Carolina, Moore's fire had mostly left him by the time President John Adams appointed him to the Supreme Court. Even at a time when the Court decided major cases, he either acquiesced to the majority or did not participate in certain decisions because of poor health. He wrote just one opinion, Bas v. Tingy, 4 U.S. (4 Dall.) 37, 1 L. Ed 731 (1800), important only in its historical relevance to the United States' undeclared naval war with France in the last years of the eighteenth century.
Moore was a youth during the country's difficult transition from British colony to independent nation. Born on May 21, 1755, in New Hanover County, North Carolina, he was the son of Maurice Moore, a colonial judge. Moore studied in Boston before being educated in law by his father, and he was admitted to the North Carolina bar at the age of twenty in 1775. Soon after, he fought against the British, first as a soldier and then as a saboteur. During the war, Moore's brother, father, and uncle were killed, the family plantation was ransacked, and their home was destroyed.
Moore was a member of the North Carolina legislature in 1782 and 1792. From 1782 to 1791, he served as the state's attorney general, arguing one particularly important case, Bayard v. Singleton, 1 N.C. (Mart.) 5 (1787), which marked one of the first complete discussions of the doctrine of Judicial Review (the authority of courts to determine the validity of legislation under the Constitution).A federalist who firmly believed in central government, he spearheaded North Carolina's ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788. In 1791 Moore took the strongest personal stand of his career when he resigned from the office of attorney general; he stepped down over the state legislature's creation of the office of Solicitor General with powers equivalent to his, an action he saw as unconstitutional. He won reelection to the legislature but failed in a 1795 bid for the U.S. Senate by one vote.
In 1799 President John Adams nominated Moore to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court created by the death of Associate Justice James Iredell. The next five years were pivotal ones for the Supreme Court, which expanded its powers of judicial review under the highly influential Chief Justice John Marshall. However, failing health minimized Moore's role. He did not participate in the most important decision of his day, marbury v. madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137, 2 L. Ed. 60 (1803).
Moore's only recorded Supreme Court opinion is a five-paragraph statement on the undeclared naval war between France and the United States. This war reached its height in 1798 and 1799 and was fought chiefly over French claims to seize all cargo of British origin from both British and U.S. ships. Although Congress passed many acts in relation to the conflict, problems arose over the ownership of goods that were recaptured, and in one instance the issue was resolved by determining whether France and the United States were enemy nations. When Bas v. Tingy reached the Supreme Court in 1800, each of the four justices hearing the case agreed that the two nations were indeed foes. Moore's opinion declared, "It is for the honor and dignity of both nations … that they should be called enemies."
"If words are but the representative of ideas, … by what other word [can] the idea of the relative situation of America and France be communicated, than by that of hostility or war?"
In 1804 Moore resigned from the Court. He died on October 15, 1810, in Bladen County, North Carolina, leaving as part of his legacy the establishment of the University of North Carolina.
Friedman, Leon, and Fred L. Israel, eds. 1969. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court, 1789–1969: Their Lives and Major Opinions. New York: Chelsea House.
Witt, Elder, ed. 1990. Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court. 2d ed. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly.